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Neuroscientists Suggest These 5 Easy Ways To Create Genuine Happiness In Your Life

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Neuroscientists Suggest These 5 Easy Ways To Create Genuine Happiness In Your Life

Scientific studies on how to improve mood and increase feelings of happiness have proliferated in recent years, thanks in part to the positive psychology movement. Scientists across the board are now increasingly investigating and shedding light on ongoing insights into mood, personality and cognition.

Neuroscientists, in particular, have taken an interest in understanding what brings about an upward spiral of happiness and well-being. As you probably know, not everyone is born with a sunny disposition, but science says we can all learn how to bring more meaning, satisfaction and happiness into our lives.

Here are some key ways neuroscientists say you can create genuine happiness in your life:

1. Express gratitude for life’s everyday gifts.

Different studies show that taking time to appreciate life’s small gifts affects our brains in a positive way at the biological level. According to UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb Ph.D., in his eye-opening book The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, “The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine.” Dopamine is one of four primary chemicals (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins) in the brain that effect happiness.

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Of course, sometimes life lands a pretty mean punch and you might feel like there’s nothing to be grateful for. It doesn’t matter, though. You don’t have to find anything to be grateful for. It’s the searching that counts.

“It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence,” Korb explains. “One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful,” he writes.

So express gratitude to people more often, and for life’s little gifts every day.

2. Step up and make more bold decisions.

Don’t shun decision making. When you make decisions, your brain feels in control. It feels at rest. And feeling in control and at rest reduces stress and improves mood. What’s more, brain studies show deciding also boosts pleasure feelings. When you make a decision on a goal and then achieve it, you feel better than when good things just happen by chance.

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For example, if you go to the gym because you feel you have to or you should, well, it’s not really a voluntary decision. Your brain doesn’t get the pleasure boost and the act just feels like a source of stress. However, if you decide to go to the gym and actively choose to exercise, you activate rewarding dopamine activity in the brain and actually enjoy the activity.

So make more decisions in your life and you’ll be happier. You don’t even have to make the 100% right decision. Trying to be perfect overwhelms the brain and makes you feel out of control. Just make a “good enough” decision, says Korb. “…recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control…,” he adds.

3. Touch people and hug them more.

The quality of our relationships plays a big role in our brain’s feelings of happiness. “One of the primary ways to release oxytocin (bonding hormone) is through touching,” writes Korb. “Obviously, it’s not always appropriate to touch most people, but small touches like handshakes and pats on the back are usually okay. For people you’re close with, make more of an effort to touch more often,” he says.

Moreover, “A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdale,” Korb adds. The amygdala is the integrative center in the brain that plays a key role in processing our emotions, emotional behavior and motivation.

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Spend time with friends, have fun and give more hugs. Neuroscience says it’ll boost your happiness. In fact, other studies shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks will increase your happiness big time.

4. Label you’re feelings in a word or two.

“…in one fMRI study, appropriately titled “Putting Feelings into Words” participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact,” writes Korb in his book.

Kevin Ochsner, a professor of psychology at Columbia University whose research interests include the psychological and neural processes involved in emotion and person perception, concurs. He says trying to suppress a negative emotion doesn’t work and can backfire on you. You might look fine outwardly, Ochsner says, but inwardly your limbic system is just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused.

So if you feel awful, give that awfulness a name. Describe that emotion. Nervous? Frustrated? Sad? Angry? Maybe you’re just “Bored.” Label your current emotional state in just a word or two and see the emotion’s impact reduce just like that. Lifting your mood can be that simple.

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5. Lead a more generous and compassionate life.

This might sound a bit preachy, but it is actually backed by neuroscience. Being compassionate and giving to others increases your overall well-being and boosts feelings of happiness more than what you’d experience if you focused entirely on yourself.

A brain-imaging study by neuroscientist Jordan Grafman from the National Institutes of Health revealed that the “pleasure centers” in the brain are equally active when we observe someone giving money to charity as when we receive money ourselves. Evidently, humans are hardwired for giving and compassion- contrary to the popular belief that we are essentially selfish!

In another revealing study led by Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia, participants received a sum of money and half of them were instructed to spend the money on others. The other half of participants were told to spend the money on themselves. At the end of the study, participants who spent money on others felt happier and more satisfied than those who spent all the money on themselves.

Giving usually makes people feel good. This is true even for infants. In a report by Lara Aknin, also from the University of British Columbia, it was observed that even in children as young as two, giving treats to others increased those kids’ happiness more than receiving treats themselves.

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So be more compassionate and generous to others. In doing so , you’ll create genuine happiness in your own life.

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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